Cha Ca (Vietnamese Grilled Fish) is a rare yet iconic dish in Hanoi that has been listed as one of the 1,001 dishes to eat before you die. One of the unique things is that Cha Ca is the only food on the menu of the restaurants that serve it. So it's either you eat it, or you don't.
Why do people like Cha Ca
The fish species used in this dish is catfish, a freshwater fish native to Vietnam and has a firm texture with a mild, sweet taste. The marinade is very important for this dish, and usually integrates a mixture of garlic, shallots, turmeric, ginger root, sugar, salt, and fish sauce. Usually, the fish is marinated for a few hours and then grilled over charcoal.
However, that’s not everything. The final cooking part will actually happen on your table. A portable gas burner and a small searing hot pan full of turmeric-spiced fish, dill, and spring onions will be brought to your table, along with various accoutrements such as roasted peanuts, rice noodles, chili, and fresh herbs such as basil and dill. The dipping sauce for this dish is mam tom (fermented shrimp paste) which might smell a bit musky and potent at first, but is full of umami and tastes very delicious when combined with all the ingredients.
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Ingredients that go into Cha Ca
- 3 tspchopped fresh ginger
- 3red Asian shallots, chopped
- 4garlic cloves, chopped
- 2¾ tspground turmeric
- 60 ml(2 fl oz/¼ cup) fish sauce
- 750 g(1 lb 11 oz) skinless blue eye cod or other firm white-fleshed fish fillets, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces
- 1 tspfreshly ground black pepper
- 375 g(13 oz) dried thin rice-stick noodles
- 90 g(3 oz/½ cup) rice flour
- 1 tspsalt
- 80 ml(2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) vegetable oil, plus extra if necessary
- 8spring onions (scallions), trimmed and cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces plus extra, finely sliced, to garnish
- 1onion, halved and sliced
- 2bunches of dill, coarsely torn
- 160 g(5½ oz/1 cup) roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
How to cook Cha Ca
Marinating time 2-3 hours
Combine the ginger, shallots, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the turmeric and fish sauce in a food processor and process until a coarse paste forms.
Put the fish in a bowl with the paste and pepper and stir to combine well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2–3 hours. Drain the fish well.
To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine well, until the sugar has dissolved. Put the rice-stick noodles in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and stand for 5 minutes. Drain. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the noodles and cook for 2–3 minutes or until tender – or cook according to the packet instructions. Drain well.
Combine the rice flour, remaining turmeric and salt in a bowl. Add the fish and toss well to coat, shaking off any excess.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over high heat. Add the spring onion and onion and cook, tossing often, for 4–5 minutes or until the onions are lightly charred. Add half the dill, toss for 1 minute or until the dill has wilted then transfer to a bowl. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the fish, in a single layer, and cook, turning once, for 5–6 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Scatter over the onion mixture and the remaining dill.
Divide the noodles among warmed bowls and divide the fish mixture over the noodles. Scatter over the peanuts and extra spring onion, and serve with the sauce on the side.
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What can Cha Ca be served together with
Once the Cha Ca is sizzling, it's ready to be served. Make sure you eat it along with some crushed peanut, rice noodles, and also the fresh herbs that come with it. Pour on top a bit of shrimp paste, some pieces of chilies, a few sprinkles of black pepper, and enjoy!
Other popular Vietnamese food
Besides Cha Ca, there are other vietnamese food dishes that are highly popular in Singapore and around the world. Below is a list of some of the most mentioned ones:
Pho, Cha Ca, Banh Xeo, Cao Lau, Rau Muong, Nem Ran Cha Gio, Goi Cuon, Bun Bo Hue, Banh Khot, Ga Tan, Nom Hoa Chuoi, Hoa Qua Dam, Pho Cuon, Ga Nuong, Pho Xao, Ca Phe Trung, Bo La Lot, Xoi, Banh Cuon, Ca Tim Kho To, Bot Chien, Bun Dau Mam Tom, Banh Goi, Com Suon Nuong, Chao, Bo Luc Lac, Hat De Nong, Banh Uot thit nuong, Bun Cha, Banh Mi, Lau, Banh Bao, Com rang, Bo Bit Tet, Com Chay, Che, My Xao Bo, Dau Phu Sot Ca Chua, Canh Bun
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